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Arnold School of Public Health

Knowledge of Orthographic Learning Lab


In the Knowledge of Orthographic Learning Lab (KOOL2), we investigate factors that potentially affect the development of reading and writing. One major focus is on how children develop orthographic knowledge (i.e., knowledge regarding the systematic manner in which we represent spoken language in writing). Ongoing studies deal with how children acquire the mental images of written words (mental graphemic representations) as well as how best to assess and instruct children in the development of spelling. Although orthography is a major focus of investigations, we also study other factors known to affect reading and writing, such as morphological awareness, or the conscious knowledge of the smallest units of meaning in language. These studies are conducted to further inform developmental theory about written language and how best to assess and instruct or intervene written language abilities.

Department of Communication Science and Disorders


Current Research Areas

Written (orthographic) fast-mapping

We are investigating the manner in which preschool and kindergarten children quickly acquire the mental graphemic representations (MGRs, or “pictures in their heads”) of new words that they are exposed to in incidental situations, such as storybook reading contexts.

Morphological Awareness Intervention

As part of a five year US Department of Education, Institute for Education Sciences Funding, Reading for Understanding Research Initiative grant (#R305F100027), we are investigating the effects of a morphological awareness intervention on the language and literacy skills of kindergarten through second grade children from high poverty schools.

Influences on early reading and spelling development

We are examining how different linguistic knowledge factors (e.g., phonemic {sound} awareness, orthographic {letter and letter patterns} knowledge, morphological {knowledge of roots, prefixes, suffixes} awareness, MGRs, rapid naming) influence early reading and spelling skills.

Written vowel development

In collaboration with Dr. Cynthia Puranik at the University of Pittsburgh, we are examining accuracy in spelling of vowels in first through fourth grade children.

Spelling assessment

In collaboration with  Dr. Julie Masterson at Missouri State University, we are studying new methods of assessing developmental changes in spelling ability that take into account the linguistic knowledge children apply to their spellings.


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Kenn Apel, PhD, CCC-­SLP

Professor & ChairDept. Communication Sciences & DisordersArnold School of Public HealthUniversity of South CarolinaColumbia, SC 29208 Ph.D. University of MemphisMA and BA, San Diego State University

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Victoria Henbest

Victoria Henbest, M.S. CCC-SLP, is an ASHA certified Speech-Language Pathologist. Currently, she is a doctoral student assisting with research being conducted in the KOOL2 lab. She earned a B.S.E. in Communication Sciences and Disorders from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville in 2007. She received her M.S. in Communication Sciences and Disorders from Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri in July of 2009. Over the past 5 years, Victoria worked as a Speech-Language Pathologist at the Republic Early Childhood Center in Republic, Missouri. Victoria grew up in Fayetteville, Arkansas and is an avid hog fan! After receiving her PhD, Victoria plans to enter academia as a researcher/scholar.


Eve Falkiewicz

Eve Falkiewicz is from Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. She earned her B.A. in Psychology with a minor in Communication Disorders from The University of South Carolina. She plans to work for South Carolina public schools in the future.


Caroline Harris

Caroline Harris is from Columbia, South Carolina. She earned a B.A. in Education and Religion from Furman University in 2015. 

jess rice

Jess Rice

Jess Rice is from Rockford, Illinois. She earned her B.A. in communications from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2009. After graduation, she worked for Junior Achievement of Chicago before deciding to pursue a career in speech-language pathology. She then earned her B.S. in communication sciences and disorders from Illinois State University in 2014.


Leslie W. Bunting

Leslie W. Bunting is from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. She received a Bachelor of Science in Public Health from Clemson University.


Recent Peer-Reviewed Publications

Apel, K., & Masterson, J.J. (in press). Comparing the spelling and reading abilities of students with cochlear implants and students with typical hearing. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education.

Hall-Mills, S., & Apel, K. (in press). Linguistic feature development across grades and genre in elementary writing. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools.

Brimo, D., Apel, K., & Fountain, T. (in press). Examining the contributions of syntactic awareness and syntactic knowledge to reading comprehension. Journal of Research in Reading.

Wilson-Fowler, E.B., & Apel, K. (in press). Influence of morphological awareness on college students' literacy skills: A path analytic approach. Journal of Literacy Research.

McLeod, A., N. & Apel, K. (2015). Morphological awareness intervention: Study of a child with a history of speech and language impairment. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 36 (4), 208-218. doi: 10.1177/1525740114560371

Apel, K. (2014). A comprehensive definition of morphological awareness: Implications for assessment.Topics in Language Disorders, 34, 197-209. doi: 10.1097/TLD.0000000000000019

Apel, K. (2014). Clinical scientists improving clinical practices: In thoughts and actions. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 45, 104-109. DOI: 10.1044/2014_LSHSS-14-0003.

Apel, K., & Diehm, E. (2014). Morphological awareness intervention with kindergarteners and first and second grade students from low SES homes: A small efficacy study. Journalof Learning Disabilities, 47, 65-75. DOI: 10.1177/0022219413509964

Apel, K., & Werfel, K. (2014). Using morphological awareness instruction to improve written language skills. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 45, 251-260. doi:10.1044/2014_LSHSS-14-0039

Connor, C.M., Phillips, B.M., Kaschak, M., Apel, K., Kim, Y-S., Al Otaiba, S., Crowe, E.C., Thomas-Tate, S., Johnson, L.C., & Lonigan, C.J. (2014). Comprehension tools for teachers: Reading for understanding from pre-kindergarten through fourth grade. Educational Psychology Review, 26, 379-401. DOI 10.1007/s10648-014-9267-1

Horton,  R., & Apel, K. (2014). Examining the use of spoken dialect indices with African-American children in the southern United States. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 23, 448-460. doi:10.1044/2014_AJSLP-13-0028

Apel, K., Brimo, D., Diehm, E., & Apel, L. (2013). Morphological awareness intervention with kindergarteners and first and second grade students from low SES homes: A feasibility study.Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 44, 161-173. DOI: 10.1044/0161-1461(2012/12-0042)

Apel, K., Brimo, D., Wilson-Fowler, E.B., Vortius, C., & Radach, R. (2013). Children develop initial orthographic knowledge during storybook reading. Scientific Studies of Reading, 17, 286-302. DOI: 1080/10888438.2012.692742

Apel, K., Diehm, E., & Apel, L. (2013). Using multiple measures of morphological awareness to assess its relation to reading. Topics in Language Disorders, 33, 42-56. Doi: 10.1097/TLD.Ob013e318280f57b

Hall-Mills, S., & Apel, K. (2013). Narrative and expository writing of adolescents with language-learning disabilities: A pilot study. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 34, 135-143. Doi: 10.1177/1525740112465001

Kim, Y-S., Apel, K., & AlOtaiba, S. (2013). The relation of linguistic awareness and vocabulary to word reading and spelling for first grade students participating in Response to Intervention. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 44, 337-347. DOI: 10.1044/0161-1461(2013/12-0013)

Masterson, J.J., & Apel, K. (2013). Monitoring progress in spelling improvement. Perspectives on Language Learning and Education, 20, 144-152. DOI: 10.1044/lle20.4.144

Apel, K., Thomas-Tate, S., Wilson-Fowler, E.B., & Brimo, D. (2012). Acquisition of initial mental graphemic representations by children at risk for literacy development. Applied Psycholinguistics, 33, 2, 365-391.

Apel, K., Wilson-Fowler, E.B., Brimo, D., & Perrin, N.A. (2012). Metalinguistic contributions to reading and spelling in second and third grade students. Reading and Writing, 25, 1283-1305.

Apel, K. (2011). Science is an attitude: A response to Kamhi. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 42, 65-68.

Apel, K.  (2011). What is orthographic knowledge? Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 42, 592-603.

Apel, K. & Apel, L. (2011). Identifying intra-individual differences in students' written language abilities.Topics in Language Disorders, 31, 54-72.

Apel, K., & Lawrence, J. (2011). Contributions of morphological awareness skills to word-level reading and spelling in first-grade children with and without speech sound disorder. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 54, 1312-1327.

Hall-Mills, S., & Apel, K. (2011). Differential effects of letter name spelling and text representation on early reading ability. Contemporary Issues in Communication Science and Disorders, 38, 97-108. DOI: 1092-5171/11/3802-0097

Wolter, J.A, Self, T., & Apel, K. (2011). Initial mental graphemic representation acquisition and later literacy achievement in children with language impairment: A longitudinal study. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 44, 543-555.

Apel, K. (2010). Kindergarten children’s initial spoken and written word learning in a storybook context.Scientific Studies in Reading, 14, 5, 440-463.

Masterson, J.J., & Apel, K. (2010). The Spelling Sensitivity Score: Noting developmental changes in spelling knowledge. Assessment for Effective Intervention, 36(1), 35-45.

Masterson, J., & Apel, K. (2010). Linking characteristics discovered in spelling assessment to intervention goals and methods. Learning Disabilities Quarterly, 33, 3, 185-198.

Puranik, C., & Apel, K. (2010). Effect of assessment task and letter writing ability on preschool children’s spelling performance. Assessment for Effective Intervention, 36(1), 45-56.

Wolter, J.A., & Apel, K. (2010). Initial acquisition of mental graphemic representations in children with language impairment. Journal of Speech-Language-Hearing Research. 53, 179-195.

Apel, K. (2009). The acquisition of mental orthographic representations for reading and spelling development. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 31, 1, 42-52.

Apel, K., & Thomas-Tate, S. (2009). Morphological awareness skills of fourth grade African American students. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 40, 312-324.

Recent Books and Book Chapters

Masterson, J. J., & Apel, K. (2013). Spelling assessment frameworks (pp. 584-601).  In A. Stone, E.R. Silliman, B. Ehren, & G. Wallach, (Eds.), Handbook of Language and Literacy: Development and Disorders, 2nd Edition. New York: Guilford Press.

Apel, K., Wolter, J.A., & Masterson, J.J. (2012). Mental graphemic representations. In N.M. Seel (Ed.),Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning (Vol. 5, pp. 2185-2186). New York: Springer.

Apel, K., & Masterson, J. J. (2012). Beyond baby talk: From speaking to spelling: A guide to language and literacy development for parents and caregivers. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press.

Apel, K., Masterson, J.J., & Brimo, D. (2011). Spelling assessment and intervention: A multiple linguistic approach to improving literacy outcomes.In A.G. Kamhi & H.W. Catts (Eds). Language and reading disabilities (3rd ed.). (pp. 226 - 243). Boston, MA: Pearson

Apel, K., Masterson, J.J., & Wilson-Fowler, E.B. (2011). Developing word-level literacy skills in children with and without typical communication skills. In S. Ellis, E. McCartney, & J. Bourne (Eds.), Insight and impact: Applied linguistics and the primary school. (pp. 229-241). London, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Student Opportunies

Doctoral Students

KOOL2 offers you an excellent opportunity to learn how to develop a research question, practice critiquing scholarly works, obtain permission to conduct the study (IRB application), consider and prepare for all factors associated with the study, recruit participants, run the study, analyze the data, and write related presentation proposals and manuscripts. Doctoral students are mentoring through the research program and also learn how to mentor other students. Initially, doctoral students work on the current lines of research (See front page); as they progress, they have the option of bringing in thei own ideas for research and, in many cases, implementing those ideas.

If you are seeking a doctoral program to obtain your PhD and enter into a research/academic career, this may be the place for you! Don’t hesitate to contact Dr. Kenn Apel ( for more information on the research being conducted out of this lab and the doctoral program in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of South Carolina.

Graduate Students and Undergraduate Honors Students

KOOL2 is a great place to complete your required research experience! Graduate students who are completing either a thesis or research requirement or undergraduate honors students completing an undergraduate honors thesis can work directly with Dr. Apel and his doctoral students on exciting investigations related to literacy development and disorders.

Course-for-Credit or Volunteer Opportunities

Do you like the idea of exploring how children acquire the ability to read and write or why children, adolescents, and adults struggle with these skills? Not quite sure, but it sounds like it could be interesting? Be KOOL2 and try a semester working in the KOOL2and see what you think! It hooked the people working in the lab currently; it just might hook you, too!A few points of information if you believe you are interested:

  • You can be any class standing (freshman through senior).

  • We generally encourage students to have a GPA of 3 or above.

  • We prefer students work in KOOL2for at least 1 year; however, we are open to 1 semester options.

  • Lab work may include any one or more of the following opportunities: Developing stimuli, assisting in data collection/running experiments, scoring tests, entering data into statistical analysis spreadsheets, making copies, help with editing work

  • For course-for-credit options, you must sign up for at least 2 credits which equals 6 hours of lab work per week. To fulfill these hours, you must have a few time slots where you are available for at least an hour and half.

  • If it is difficult to meet these options, we can always go the volunteer route!

Please email Dr. Apel at, if you have any further questions about the course-for-credit or volunteer options.

Useful Links

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
Society for the Scientific Study of Reading